Sunday, April 22, 2007

Conflating Sexual Deviance and Politico-Religious Deviance: Arab Homosexuality and Spying for Israel in Egypt

An interesting story reported on April 21, 2007 by the "Middle East" News Magazine, Al-Jazeera ("Aljazeera Publishing is an independent media organisation established in 1992 in London. has a particular focus on events and issues in the Middle East covering major developments presenting facts as they happen.", About, reminds us of the ways in which sexual deviance is sometimes conflated with political, religious or cultural deviance as a method of demonizing enemies and of inflating (and gendering) the corruption and associated with the activity condemned. Egyptian-Canadian Jailed for Israel Spying, Al-Jazeera Magazine, April 21, 2007.

The story reports that an Egyptian man with Canadian residency, "Muhammad al-Attar, 31, was convicted of being an agent for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad." Id. The story relates a odyssey of Mr. al-Attar from his recruitment in Turkey in 2001 by Israeli agents. Apparently the Israelis were able to secure for Mr. al-Attar a residency in Canada "under a false name and found him a job in a bank, where he used his position to obtain information on specific accounts. They say he was paid $56,000 to spy on expatriate Egyptians in Canada and Turkey." Id. Thus far the story is fairly unremarkable. It appears to be the usual case of Israeli (and likely other Western) attempts at keeping tabs on money flows for legitimate (and potentially illegitimate) purposes.

It is the next part of the story that is interesting. "A transcript of Attar’s confession, which he claims was extracted under torture by Egypt’s intelligence officials, said he had recruited gay or impoverished Arabs in Canada for Mossad, a Canadian newspaper has reported. . . . Attar denied being homosexual, although it was cited as a reason for an application he made for refugee status with the United Nations." Id.

Now the story resonates on a variety of levels. The story, which at first glance appeared to be a simple story of low level intelligence gathering, now becomes more a powerful political tale of the moral bankruptcy of Israel (and other Western states). It conflates moral and sexual corruption with political betrayal--treason. It further conflates the interests of Israel and the West with moral and sexual corruption. Thus, the real message of the story--the connection between moral, religious, sexual and political corruption. And more important--the connection between such corruption and Israel and other Western States. Such conflations serve a number of useful purposes: protecting the boundaries of sexual dominance within Egyptian culture, inscribing the enemy with sexual and social practices incompatible with any sort of friendly relations, and gendering bad conduct (political betrayal) as defectively male (and thus female).

These conflations, tying manliness, religious rectitude, and privileged political values with a demonization of enemies on these gendered terms is nothing new. In the dar al-Islam, its most recent famous deployment was in the great battle for control of th Malaysian state, when Mahatir Mohamad used accusations of political and sexual corruption to engineer the downfall of his political rival Anwar Ibrahim. This drama reached its most operatic and well publicized culmination in a sensationally sexualized trial, which resulted in a conviction and jailing of the former leader of a Malaysian Islamist religious party. See Larry Catá Backer, Emasculated Men, Effeminate Law in the United States, Zimbabwe and Malaysia, 17 YALE JOURNAL OF LAW & FEMINISM 1 (2005).

But what makes the story doubly interesting is that its coverage, including its pandering to the innuendo of the conflation of political and gender deviance, transmits from London and not in Cairo where it originated. It seems that religio-cultural territory has overtaken political territory as the marker of boundaries in our transnational global order. Solidarity is moving back to its pre-modern configuration. Political borders no longer mark either ethnos or demos. And neither ethnos nor demos might serve as the supreme marker of either nation or state. If cultural markers, like the gender subordination/conflation matrix evidenced by the English news reporting in suggests anything, it is that the use of gender deviation is deepening and, applied in the West, represents a reactionary element in the cultural development of this region.


Anonymous said...


Interesting post. I am curious to exactly what the internal composition of is - ethno/politically.

I thought there was an interesting combination of "target" recruits - gay and poor. Why not simply other Egyptians (the prosecutors might have done a better job to come up with something more convincing before he was charged/convicted. Obviously, they had time since they found the UN application).

We can now add the conflation (sp)of sexual corruption (to join mass murder, violation of commonly held human rights, etc.), to the highly sophisticated image war being waged between Islam and the "West." What is most fascinating to me is that those in power in this case (Egypt) so blatantly manipulate religious reflexes. I am reminded over and over to RUN from religious extremists (including all those Baptists here in the Southeast).


Anonymous said...

Interesting commentary,
I write specifically in comment to your last paragraph. I would posit a hypothesis that suggests the law of globalization does not necessarily mean the dissolution of state boundaries, but instead a shift from a state-centric theory of politics and law to a culture centric model. In fact, in his book Clash of Civilizations, Professor Samuel Huntington proposed such a model where the world was no longer divided into states, but organized along cultural fault lines. I would argue that this model is apt to the modern world as many conflicts seem to originate along cultural fault lines. In addition, I would posit law making ability has transcended the state border and instead originates in various ethno-centric entities. If our world in 2007 is any indication of things to come, it would seem that lawyers, businessmen, and politicians must not only be wary of their own state politics, but also understand the underlying culture of potential allies, investors, and clients, if they hope engage in global ventures. Perhaps in the coming years, we will no longer consider ourselves Americans, but Westerners.